Why the world’s leading packaging machine manufacturer uses 3D Printing
BOBST Mex SA is one of the world’s leading suppliers of substrate processing, printing and converting equipment and services for the label, flexible packaging, folding carton and corrugated board industries. Founded in 1890 by Joseph Bobst in Lausanne, Switzerland, BOBST has a presence in more than 50 countries, runs 19 production facilities in 11 countries and employs more than 5 800 people around the world.
“Leading innovation” is one of the main strategic goals for BOBST. As a leader in innovation BOBST is constantly adopting new technologies. 3D Printing became one of those technologies when the company took a strategic approach to implement the technology in 2018. 3D Printing enables BOBST to increase machine efficiency and increase customer service due to individual solutions and fast spare part reaction time.
Ensuring customer satisfaction with individual product solutions
One of the many 3D Printing success stories at BOBST was a customized part for an Asian customer, who had acquired an EXPERTFOLD 110 folder-gluer machine and decided to enhance the machine’s gluing capacity with an additional tank after the delivery of the machine. The part had to be customized and traditional manufacturing would have been both complicated and delivery time would have taken too long. It was therefore decided that the part should be manufactured using 3D Printing. It took 3 weeks from decision to use 3D Printing to delivery of the part for installation on the machine.
The path to successful AM implementation is not always straight forward
The initiative to investigate and utilize the potential of 3D Printing came straight from the CEOs office in 2018. However, the implementation is not always as straight forward as the industry likes to suggest. A main hurdle for such a groundbreaking new technology is the design mindset of the engineering teams. BOBST is an established company with a history for extremely reliable high-end processing machines, where a new manufacturing technology is not easily accepted. Material properties and cost per part proved to be the main hurdles.
Material properties must be proven internally
It turns out that no one can take the shortcut and simply accept external standards or supplier data sheets. To achieve internal acceptance of a manufacturing technology, no matter if polymer of metal, one has to prove that the material properties fulfil the expected values. This is not a one-time effort, but parts rather need to leave the shop floor in a constant quality. In the best case, internal use cases have to undergo a complete in-build test.
Design mindset towards function first
3D Printing allows for new functionalities and optimized designs. One of the basic rules is that material is being deposited only where it is needed. This mindset is common for casting applications, however in a typical industrial machine company, casting is not a standard process. The mindset of most engineers is driven by machining capabilities, where material is being removed rather than added. This however means that at BOBST, engineers had to be actively learn how to design new applications bottom up, starting with the actual functionality of the application in mind. The BOBST team was successful with on-site workshops where both external and internal trainers were teaching 3D Printing fundamentals followed by a hands-on engineering workshop on specific parts. In 2022, the company did 4 of those workshops at international BOBST sites with every meeting leading to 3-4 high potential applications.
Internal communications with proprietary use cases
Acceptance is driven by communication. This is true both internally towards employees and externally towards customers. Nothing works better to spread the word about the advantages of 3D Printing than successful, proprietary use cases. The engineers at BOBST quickly realized the value that 3D Printing can bring to the company and its customers. The main tool is the intranet, where co-workers can keep track of the activities and success stories. Another important communication channel comes from our customer visits. The 3D Printing facility within BOBST is a major stop for all customers.
Suppliers have a different focus regarding quality and price
While BOBST invested in their own machines for metal and polymer 3D printing early on, they were continuously working with external suppliers for selected applications. The focus was was initially on suppliers delivering high-quality parts. This strong focus on quality also meant that parts came at a high price. Over the years, additional suppliers with a stronger focus on costs have been onboarded, which ultimately leads to more successful business cases. Suppliers are now selected from a bigger pool based on specific application requirements.
Key take aways
3D Printing at BOBST is now a key technology to enable custom solutions at short reaction times. It took several years and even after 5 years of implementation, the full potential of 3D Printing is yet to be unlocked. At BOBST, 3 key learnings where identified that can help industrial companies to successfully implement the technology: